Whether you take a vacation together, meet for dinner, or take a few minutes out of your day for a quick chat on the phone, spending time with friends can do wonders. These moments of connection help us feel less alone, cheer us up, and give us a much-needed laugh.
The friends we connect with are often our peers. But we can get those same benefits — and more — from spending time with other generations, too.
As someone who helps adults create legacy print books and keepsake digital books for kids, I have done quite a bit of research on intergenerational connections. The findings are clear: it’s essential, no matter what your age.
Results from an AARP survey, The Positive Impact of Intergenerational Friendships, show that these relationships have benefits that differ from those among people who are close in age. The main one is helping us to see things from a different perspective.
When you build a connection with someone in a different generation, you’re also giving them another resource. They might feel more comfortable talking to you about something rather than a relative or a peer.
Other unique benefits include feeling comfortable sharing opinions, serving as inspiration, helping one appreciate their experiences, and feeling valued.
A Two-Way Street
I wanted to find out what people had to say about intergenerational connection, so I posed two questions to people of all ages: How do you benefit from spending time with other generations? And how do you think they benefit from spending time with you?
For a woman named Donna, memories of spending time with her grandparents came flooding back. “Nana got me started on my bingo craze when I was 5, and Bampa would stay awake each time I attended an event. He wanted to hear all about it when I got home.”
Bonnie says her kids, grandkids, and younger friends keep her sharp. “They introduce me to new technology and music. They challenge my thoughts and beliefs, which makes me re-evaluate. Younger generations are more open about their struggles, which helps me to be more open about mine.”
Wayne says younger people help him age slower and provide comic relief. “They aren’t as serious as my generation.” In return, Wayne feels that he gives perspective to younger generations and can warn them of potential pitfalls. “I can also show them just how bad their music is,” he jokes — sort of.
The feedback from younger generations centered on learning. Twelve-year-old Priscilla says she benefits by learning from older generations and that it’s a two-way street. Emily, a teenager, says she passes on her knowledge to the children she babysits and helps them learn rules and know right from wrong.
Eleven-year-old Ben feels his peers can teach older people how to work their devices. And people his age can learn about new hobbies from older generations, just like he learned about coin collecting from his grandfather.
“Adults can learn about younger generations from us,” says 12-year-old Charlotte, “and they can teach us things such as life skills.”
Cindy works in the administrative office at an elementary school in Utah. A fourth-grade student there struggled with academics and social skills until she started reading for an hour daily with Cindy.
“The little girl didn’t talk much, and when she did, she whispered,” Cindy says. “I consistently showed her kindness, and we made a strong connection. I taught her it’s okay to speak up, and in time she gained confidence. She doesn’t whisper anymore.”
Bridging the Gap
So where can you start to build these intergenerational connections? Of course, the easiest place is within your own family. Take young Ben’s advice and learn a new hobby with your child or grandchild. Get some exercise with a niece or nephew or choose a local nonprofit and volunteer together.
But don’t stop there. Six generations live in the U.S. today, giving you plenty of opportunities to connect with different age groups. Become a mentor or a tutor. Ask a younger person in your neighborhood to teach you about a new technology. Get involved in a local event that appeals to people of all ages, such as a 5K run or a festival. Sign up for a class at the library or participate in a community garden.
Eight-year-old Emily says she can make older people laugh and that different generations can have fun together. What are you waiting for?